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When Did I Stop Starring In My Own Movie?

When I was a kid, I felt like the world
revolved around me – in a completely non-egotistical way.
Life simply seemed to be filled with rooms full of people who
became animated when I walked in, and shut down when I left. The
whole Life Story thing was, to me, supremely interesting, and I
felt like everyone else existed to be supporting characters in my

I couldn’t have put this into words, of course; it was
something that I simply felt – a sense of being the center of
the universe. And I don’t think I felt like I deserved it or
was incredibly special or chosen for this great event as much as I
felt like it’s simply the way it was. From my point of view
– which, admittedly, was clearly biased – everything
was important as to how it related to me, or affected me. If I had
to put a title to points of my life, they’d be such things as
“Jennifer Goes to Camp” or “A Young
Ballerina” or perhaps, in an after-school special sort of
thing, “Jennifer: An Angry Teen”.

Even as I got older and realized it wasn’t so, I still felt
like I was penning a very cool story as I went about my daily life.
My travels, my shows, my life felt interesting to me, a story that
still (surprise surprise) revolved around me and, later on, my
husband – as a co-star. Though I still got first billing. I
felt like a real-life Seinfeld, or Raymond, or Dick Van Dyke, or
Mary Tyler Moore. I’m not saying I thought I was God’s
gift to anything – just felt like the story revolved around
me. In an appropriate way.

And then I had kids.

We spent last week on vacation in Florida,
renting a house and enjoying the beach, staying in the same house
we’d rented five years ago when Maddie was merely a year old
and Cora was not yet with us. And I couldn’t help but compare
the two vacations – and seeing how much my life has changed.

Of course, having a single baby is a life-changing experience. But
in some ways, especially when the child is quite young,
there’s still this sense of “You’re a couple who
has a kid” rather than a new, completely different animal of
“a family”. I was still nursing, and life certainly
revolved around Maddie – but in a diaper-changing,
feeding-schedule sort of way. I still felt like me, and perhaps
would have titled that particular movie “The Young, Hip
Mother”. With the toddler in a featured role, showing how
together I was, how great of a mother I was and yet still amazingly

I’d thought that going to the beach with older kids –
two potty-trained ones, at that – would be easier, and it
was, in a way. Naps weren’t so sacred (at least for the
kids!) and the girls could wipe their own bottoms (for the most
part). But I found myself working harder in a supporting role kind
of way, and it was quite disconcerting. Suddenly, there’s
this brand-new movie, perhaps titled “Two Adorable Moppets
Discover the Beach”, and I have significantly less screen

But significantly more behind-the-scenes work.

I found myself doing every single job on a movie set – except
for the easiest one, the Starring Role. I’m not saying acting
is easy – but you do get to sit in a chair and wait while
hundreds of people rush around getting ready to make you look good.
Then the camera roles, you have fun pretending, and you sit back in
your chair with a diet Coke. Which someone else brought you.

Like, say, your mother.

Seriously, I felt like I hit every job description:

“Craft Services” – a fancy name for the food
truck. This does not just mean meals – it means drinks,
snacks, meals, and most of all, catering to the stars’ whims.
I felt like I was constantly packing snacks for the beach
(“Mommy, did you bring good snacks? Oh, it looks like the
answer is no. I guess I’ll just eat what you brought.”)
or filling water bottles (“Mommy, where’s my water
bottle? It’s not cold water! I know the ice cubes don’t
fit in it, but you can crush the ice and put the crushed ice in the
bottle. Gamma’s done it for me before.”) or figuring
out what’s going to be for lunch or dinner (“Mommy,
I’m hungry – when are we stopping for lunch? Is there a
Chik-Fil-A around here? No, not that. Not that. Not that. Is there
really not a Chik-Fil-A around here? Let’s just drive and see
if there is. I’m hungry – when will we get to
Chik-Fil-A if there is one?”)

All of these are actual quotes from last week.

“Wardrobe” – exactly like what it sounds like.
Not a big deal since I do it every day, but all that fine white
sand in Florida just made that job exponentially harder. We spent
seven days with some degree of sand in our underpants, which no
amount of forceful hosing could fix. Believe me, I tried; I felt
like I was constantly washing out swim suits or finding clean
underpants or digging for another swim top. Constantly.

“Set Decorating” – what you do to make a set feel
realistic, like home. In my case, it meant what I had to do to make
the girls’ room feel close enough to home so they’d
relax and go to sleep. That meant bringing – and carefully
arranging each day – the Monkey pillow; the Ariel pillow; the
Fancy pillow; Peacock; Ostrich; Big Panda; Snake; Snuggle Bear;
Bubba Bear; two Silkeys; the “special” night light; an
iPod with night-night music; iPod speakers; two bedside
flashlights; and two bedside water bottles. And woe unto me if I
couldn’t find any of it one night.

I could go on here, but you get the point. Occasionally, of course,
I was allowed in front of the metaphorical camera for a while, and
had some truly excellent moments “on film” with my
family: we did some great swimming, snorkeling, dolphin-watching,
boating, shell-finding, and just plain laying on the beach reading
a book. When I could simply be present in these moments and enjoy
the time, I was relaxed and happy and truly enjoying myself.

But I never escaped the feeling that the movie’s shifted,
that it’s not my story any more but my children’s and
I’m just there in a (well numerous) supporting role(s). And I
guess that’s the way it should be; our children stand on our
shoulders to reach higher than we do, and part of how we help them
is by fading in the background and becoming whatever they need us
to be.

But sometimes, I do miss those moments in front of my camera. And
sitting in my chair with a refreshing beverage between takes.


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